Small galaxy, Massive black hole

Tomorrow’s edition of Nature contains an interesting astrophysics paper that I must blog about for the sake of domestic peace and harmony. It’s commonly accepted that all galaxies contain a massive black hole at their centre. Measuring the masses of these black holes is tough, but those we’ve been able to make that measurement for show a strong correlation between the black hole mass and that of the total mass of stars in the galaxy. This suggests that somehow the evolution of a galaxy and that of its central black hole are intricately linked, and this is now a key given in our understanding of galaxy evolution.

This new paper, by Remco van den Bosch here at MPIA and a number of collaborators, now convincingly challenges this assumption. In a large survey of very massive nearby galaxies with the Texan Hobby Eberly Telescope, they discovered a number of galaxies that appear to contain black holes whose mass dominates their total stellar mass. For one of these, the team obtained much additional data to rule out any problems with their original data or the methods used to derive the black hole mass. This galaxy, NGC 1277, is the subject of the paper.

NGC 1277 is definitely an interesting galaxy, but on its own cannot change these long-held assumptions. After all, every population has its outliers. What’s particularly exciting is that there appear to be others like it.

I’ve watched this paper in the making over the last few months, years even, and while it’s not my work, I’m quite proud to see it in print and receiving attention in so many places. Congrats to the authors and well done for the hard work.

van den Bosch et al, An over-massive black hole in the compact lenticular galaxy NGC 1277, Nature 2012 (paywalled) – or astro-ph. [links added, 29/11/12]



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